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Knights blend service, fellowship, faith in good works, community
Kristen Hannum

'It's very satisfying to me,' says Leonard Hlavinka, a member for 30-plus years. 'It's like a vocation - it's what keeps me going.'

State Deputy George Flake puts it this way: 'I'll never be a priest, I'll never be a deacon or a brother. This is as close as I can get to doing God's work - that's why I joined.'

Hlavinka and Flake are just two of more than 8,000 Knights in 68 councils in Oregon. The goal is to have a council in every parish - to better serve the Church and the men who join.

'It definitely makes me a better Catholic,' says Joe Lavailee, a member of the St. Anne de Beaupre Council in Grants Pass. Lavailee explains that the group prays together, provides a way for him to work for the Church, and has been a good way to meet new friends.

The Knights have proved a good avenue for men to put their values to work; in fact, the bumper sticker philosopher who came up with 'Think globally, act locally,' may have been thinking of the Knights of Columbus.

The group has four main objectives: to aid the Church; to develop fellowship; to perform charitable, educational and patriotic works, and to provide a system of fraternal insurance.

While their goals are universal, the Knights' good works are most often seen by the average Catholic at such parish events as the pancake breakfasts, spaghetti feeds and barbecues that are traditional fund-raisers for the councils - as well as being good for getting to know other parishioners and good eating.

Individual councils also make commitments to Perpetual Adoration schedules at their parishes; they put together thousands of Christmas baskets.

The Columbia Newsletter, a bimonthly publication of the Oregon State Council of the Knights of Columbus, fills page after page with news from the various councils.

They hold bowling tournaments for fun and fund-raising; an annual basketball free-throw competition for boys and girls ages 10 through 14; raise funds through raffles; sponsor Memorial Day, Veterans Day and other patriotic Masses; send busloads of the faithful to the annual pro-life rally in Salem; host pastor appreciation meals; and pitch in with painting and other facilities maintenance jobs at the parishes whenever asked.

They also offer scholarships for young Catholics at universities and for seminarians, postulants and novices at seminaries and order schools.

It frustrates Don Cersovski, a member of the St. Paul the Apostle, Eugene, Council, that more young men aren't members. He says that the Knights need to do a better job of telling people about all that they do - and the benefits of becoming a Knight as well.

The insurance program is part of the personal benefits. Every Knight's family, should he die, automatically receives a $1,000 death benefit. The Knights of Columbus insurance program offers unique benefits such as a death benefit for miscarriages past a certain number of weeks, and automatic burial benefits for children who die of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) before the age of 2.

For Cersovski, the most important benefit of being a Knight is the fact that the order has more than once saved his faith.

He also says that he's continually astonished when he hears about the amount of good works that the Knights are responsible for. He heard at one meeting that of the 300 fraternal groups registered with the IRS, the Knights are responsible for more than 80 percent of the cash raised and donated.

The Knights are also the only fraternal organization still gaining members - albeit at a slower rate than in the group's heyday.

'I think there's been a bit of a resurgence in recent years, though,' says Cersovski. 'And there are more younger Knights joining.'

Any Catholic man 18 and older who is a practical Catholic (that means he lives up to the Commandments of God and the precepts of the Church) may be a Knight. Actual acceptance depends upon a vote of the members of the local council.

Men join the council nearest to their home. An applicant is initiated as a First-degree Knight. He may then progress on to being a Second- and Third-order member. Some Knights also join the Fourth Order, which is a patriotic order. It's Fourth-order Knights who form the honor guards at historic events, wearing their chapeaus and carrying sabers.

At both the national and the local levels, the Knights have championed the Church's teachings on divorce, birth control, abortion and pornography.

They raise and distribute tens of millions of dollars to Church groups and in support of programs at the international, national and local levels. Nationally, close to a quarter million hours are donated to good works through Knights and their families annually. 'I'm amazed at some of the things Knights do,' says Cersovski.

On Sept. 12, the Knights donated $1 million to the victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attack. They had distributed several thousand dollars by Sept. 14.

After the Second Vatican Council, at the pope's urging, the Knights reconsidered the world and their own organization's role in it. The Knights renewed their call to help the poor and make their wider communities a better place.

The Knights raise and donate tens of millions of dollars and hours of their time to community projects and the Church.

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